Each culture has its own special desserts for the holidays, things that have been passed down from generation to generation following traditional recipes. These things are part of us since we were children – however as an adult in Italy I have found the room to add a few new holiday favorites to my list. Though I am not a big fan of almond paste, marzipan and almond cookies – I do have to make an exception for the Ricciarelli. I certainly hope that Santa has room in his bag to bring me a nice tray full!
These holiday treats are cookies made using an ground almonds (no flour) with sugar, honey and egg whites then formed into oval shaped cookies that is normally lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar. I had the great fortune to work in Export Sales for an Italian bakery called Menchetti, and they made a ricciarelli — well as the Italians would say these cookies were “parlante”, which means that it was so good it “spoke” to you. Not only did they make them with powdered sugar on top but also ricciarelli dipped in dark chocolate. . . now that was (as my little sister used to say) to die for!
These cookies were originally found in the Siena area, but now they are definitely synonymous with Italian Christmas Treats all over Italy. There snow white tops call to mind the beautiful snow capped mountains in Abetone or Mt. Amiato in the Tuscan area near Siena. Legend accredits these cookies to Ricciardetto who brought the recipe back with him during the crusades, yet the BuonItalia site which takes care of all DOC and ITG recipes and foods indicates that these cookies most probably have its origins in the fact that this area of Tuscany was particularly strong in the trade of spices and other delicacies.